Is it really Brand vs. Performance Marketing?

Barry W. Enderwick
4 min readMar 29, 2018

In my time consulting for startups and established companies there seems to be a common thread that has emerged. One in which company leadership thinks in terms of brand marketing vs. performance marketing. And to be sure, they each have their value. Brand marketing helps build the brand for the long-term whereas Performance Marketing is often viewed as mostly concerned with growing the company. The problem is that what often occurs is that brand gets conflated with brand marketing.

What is Brand?

A brand is the sum total of everything a company does. From how it writes marketing copy to how it handles returns. It is who the company is and why it matters. Everything that a company does and how people react and interact with a company defines a brand.

The company, for its part, can try to shape the brand using brand components such as brand position, brand attributes, and brand story. Those components should inform and guide everything a company does. Including…

Performance Marketing

A lot of people think performance marketing is solely about the numbers. And to a large extent, it is. But performance marketing that is done without the guiding principle of brand only gives you a short-term win. When done using the brand as a guide, you not only get what worked the best but can help build the brand in the process.

Think of performance marketing as being is on a spectrum. On one end is the ruthlessly created and optimally efficient combination of words and images that bring in the best numbers up front. It moves KPIs like “the most visitors” or “highest conversions.” It has no regard for building the brand, just hitting or exceeding those KPI goals. That is a short-term win.

On the other end of the spectrum is the maximally brand-based version, one that has everything it needs to express the brand position and attributes with only the slightest call to action. This kind of ad may not bring in the front end numbers like the previous one but it does a great job of building the brand.

The best version of performance marketing lies somewhere in between those two ends. It is informed by the brand but is ruthlessly optimized within those parameters. For example, at Netflix when we were establishing ourselves as a streaming company before Netflix Originals came on the scene, we would create banner ads that featured marketing messaging developed from the foundation of our brand position — “movie enjoyment made easy.” Typically it would have a benefit-driven headline like, “Instantly watch as many movies as you want” followed by support copy. The imagery would be something like a happy family in their living room with the Netflix UI on the TV. That also paid off the brand position. But we would A/B test language and imagery all the time within the parameters of “movie enjoyment made easy.”

By knowing your brand position, your brand attributes, and how to translate that position into messaging and imagery that resonates with your target audience, you’re able to create performance marketing that helps reinforce the brand.

Now, about this Brand Marketing thing?

Brand marketing, like the kind you see Nike do on a regular basis, exists purely to bolster the brand. It is not typically held to account for KPIs like Performance Marketing is. It doesn’t have to convert or drive traffic per se.

But here’s the thing, unless you have high brand recognition with your target audience(s), it is a waste of time and money. Brand recognition can be measured by the Brand Development Index (BDI). If it is below, say, 60% stick to performance marketing that is informed by brand. Startups, who surely don’t have anywhere near that level of brand recognition, should probably not be doing any pure brand marketing. At all.

Why? Because consumers have thousands of ways to get information. Everything new piece of information, not just advertising, is vying for consumers’ attention. And their attention span is short. So unless a company is willing and able to spend massive amounts of money to keep the brand campaigns going on a multitude of channels in a sustained fashion, it will fail.

Let’s Recap

Remember brand is the sum total of everything you do. How you influence that is by knowing your brand position and attributes and applying them consistently across all aspects of the business including Performance Marketing. Then if reach that glorious day when you have high brand recognition you can finally unleash Brand Marketing.

If you enjoyed this please give it a like and share freely.

Many thanks to friend and former colleague Steve McLendon for editorial pushback and help. If you enjoyed this article and want to see more articles on brand, copywriting, and marketing, follow me on LinkedIn or connect with me on Twitter.



Barry W. Enderwick

Brand/marketing executive, Kaizen (ex Netflix). I write on startups, strategy, business, culture & design. Also Sandwiches Of History on Insta/TikTok/YouTube